King of the Surf Guitar

Dick Dale

I'm gonna just get this out of the way: If you're a fan of any of the listed genres, this album is a MUST-LISTEN.

Dick Dale's first album, Surfer's Choice is, in my opinion, also fantastic. It helped pioneer the surf rock genre. I think it likely had a much bigger influence on the industry than the meager size of its Wikipedia page would have you believe. However, I can't say that, that is particularly shocking to me. To put it bluntly: it sounds absolutely terrible. Now when I say terrible, I don't mean the songs are bad. In fact, I think they're excellent. It's an issue of audio fidelity. That album was recorded live in a ballroom. It all sounds incredibly crunchy and compressed. As an example, the strings on the song Misirlou Twist sound exhilirating... when they aren't piercing your eardrums. It's definitely an... acquired taste. I actually like the album's lo-fi sound, although I definitely think that's a fairly niche interest. Basically, not everyone is gonna be on board to hearing those songs through the potato they were recorded on.

King of the Surf Guitar, by comparison, features equally fantastic musicianship with much better audio fidelity. Now, it isn't amazing by any stretch. Roy Orbison's In Dreams was released just one month later and sounds much, much cleaner. You have to remember, however, that Roy Orbison had tons of industry clout by the time In Dreams, his fourth album, was released. This is only Dick Dale's second album and, despite his talent and influence, he was still fairly underrated. This album is still somewhat hard to come by as a result. It isn't available on any of the popular streaming services as far as I can tell (I could be wrong, 'cause I don't use them). If you can track down a copy of this album, whether that be on a CD or Vinyl or through a certain file-sharing network that you should seriously be using if you like music as much as I do, then you will not be disappointed.

I think the rough sound of this album gives it a real charm. It sounds gruff and dirty, but not quite as coarse as Surfer's Choice, meaning I think modern listeners going back will have a much easier time with this album.

The title track, in addition to being the perfect opening track, is probably my favorite song on the album. It's a song that will instantly get stuck in your head. The guitar riffs in between each verse sound incredibly punchy and energetic. The song's fantastic vocals are provided by a group even more underrated than Dick Dale's, called The Blossoms. I'm obsessed with the part at the end of the song where the vocals and guitar come together. "Come on and listen, come on and listen..."

The rest of the album is a mix between original songs and covers. There's a really unique take on You Are My Sunshine (or at least unique for the time, since that song has since been covered to death). I also think Dick Dale takes total ownership of the classic Greenback Dollar with his fantastic cover. In fact, I think the same could be said of most of the covers. When I first listened to this album, it wasn't immediately obvious to me which songs were and were not covers (with the obvious exceptions of King of the Surf Guitar and Dick Dale Stomp). Dick Dale injects his personality into each song he covers, but never sounds out of place (unlike a cover on another album I've already written about).

Dick Dale is perhaps most well known for his song Misirlou, which even before its use as the 'theme song' for Pulp Fiction was a big hit. That song was actually a cover of a very old folk song, whose exact point of origin is unknown but was being covered by Greek, Arabic, and Jewish musicians by as early as the 1920s. Dick Dale liked to carry over many Eastern influences into his music. He did so on Surfer's Choice and continues to do so on this album. This was done via imported Eastern songs, such as Hava Nagila (originally a Jewish folk song), as well as injecting Eastern influences into his covers, such as his iconic take on (Ghost) Riders in the Sky. These little flourishes would continue to appear on later albums, such as Mr. Eliminator, and they undeniably had an effect on the direction of rock music at the time. He beat The Beatles to the punch by a few years!

This album is one of those cases where I don't think there's a single bad song. Some just don't stick out as clearly in my mind as others. Kansas City in particular is definitely on the safe side as far as covers go. It still sounds great, but I don't know how much of that is thanks to Dick Dale.

This album is just indescribably wholesome to me. There are times where it absolutely kicks ass, like on Greenback Dollar, and there are other times where it's just so insanely pleasant that it can put me to sleep, like the excellent closing track If I Never Get to Heaven.

As I mentioned before, if you're interested in any of the listed genres, this album is an absolute must-listen. This album is criminally underrated and I don't think I could recommend it hard enough.

Written Jun 7, 2021


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